Paul Cohen-Portheim was painting in England at the outbreak of war. An Austrian, Cohen-Portheim had helped design the costumes for a series of operas at the London Opera House in November 1914. He was arrested four months later while at work and first interned at Knockaloe on the Isle of Man. The first part of his book Time Stood Still deals with his internment on the Isle of Man.
A large part of this work is devoted to the time Cohen-Portheim spent at Lofthouse Park, near Wakefield: a “gentleman’s camp,” where he paid 10 shillings a week (50 pence) for his accommodation. Amongst the chapters in Time Stood Still are those which deal with the monotony of everyday life behind barbed wire and its effects. Barbed wire sickness was a ‘grotesque’, the constant parades and roll calls were a grotesque, and even censorship was a grotesque. ‘Absurd’ is another term Cohen-Portheim uses to describe the monotony of camp life and its routine. Yet:
And, strange as it may appear, impossible as appeared in the first few months, one gets used even to that. One gets used to it because time is a mirage. Time passes slowly when days are full of activities, that is to say after a few very varied days a long time seems to have passed.
Paul Cohen-Portheim was fortunate that he could write and he could paint. He could keep boredom at bay. He had put his skills to good use in helping to organize the entertainments. Two chapters in Time Stood Still are given to Painting and The Stage. Cohen-Portheim was repatriated in 1918. Arriving in Holland in February 1918, his sense of helplessness returned, unsure of how long he was going to stay. He left Holland in November 1918. His experience during this time is covered in the Epilogue.
Paul Cohen-Portheim died in Paris after a serious illness on 4 October 1932.
Paul Cohen-Portheim, Time Stood Still: My Internment in England 1914-1918. London: Duckworth, 1931.
The Times (Digital), Saturday 8 October 1932. p. 14
© David Stowe 2016